Brown advocates for the aging

Published 6:56 pm Friday, June 8, 2012

If staying mentally and physically active is the secret to aging well, then Pat Capehart Brown is the embodiment of that concept.

A passionate advocate for the aging, Brown works on the local, regional and state level to steer policy and funding for issues that affect the elderly.

Pat Capehart Brown

She is chairwoman on the Governor’s Advisory Council on Aging, a Beaufort County delegate in the Senior Tarheel Legislature and a member of the Regional Advisory Council for the Area Agency on Aging. Brown also serves on the planning board for the Grace Martin Harwell Senior Center.

“I’m involved on the local, state and regional level. I think (the gratification in the work) is being back in our home counties where we can witness what good it does. It’s been a wonderful experience,” Brown said.

The 33-member Council on Aging — 19 statewide appointees and 14 government agency representatives — meets four times a year to study issues affecting the older population. Brown was appointed to the council by the governor in 2001 and has been chairwoman for the past three years.

“We meet and make recommendations back to the General Assembly on issues that we think are of critical concern. We, as locals, can bring that local perspective to Raleigh,” she said.

Issues that remain constant include nutrition and food, housing and transportation.

“We’ve made strides (in transportation), but it continues to be a problem, especially in rural areas like here,” Brown said.

An issue that has moved to the forefront recently is elder abuse.

“Elder abuse is a growing, growing problem. Fraud is a big issue. A big problem is that it’s difficult to prosecute,” she said.

In its last session, the General Assembly established a task force to look at the elder-abuse problem. Comprised of representatives from law enforcement, banking, attorneys general, the Department of Social Services and the Council on Aging, the task force is charged with bringing a recommendation back to the assembly on ways to tackle this growing issue, Brown said.

As one of 100 delegates in the Senior Tarheel Legislature, which meets three times a year, Brown works to identify similar issues for the elderly on a more regional and local level.

The legislature is divided into committees, with each committee studying and identifying issues they feel are of greatest concern and proposing those back to the entire body. The body then selects five priorities each year for the long session of the state’s General Assembly, Brown said.

For 2012, these priorities included restoration of funding for respite services for family caregivers of the dementia-afflicted, maintaining funding for such home- and community-based services as delivered meals, in-home aid and adult day care and maintaining funding for senior centers.

Another more local facet of Brown’s advocacy is her work as a delegate on the Regional Advisory Council of the Area Agency on Aging. Local providers of state and federal funding and programs for the elderly in a five-county region — Beaufort, Bertie, Martin, Hertford and Pitt counties — come together five times a year to view reports and talk about best practices from within the counties so that all counties can adopt them, Brown said.

The breadth of her state, regional and local work and the need to be well informed requires a lot of Brown’s time.

“My husband calls it my job. It requires a lot of attention. I try to be very involved about the decisions. I can’t do it without a lot of studying and reading,” she said.

Brown became involved in senior issues shortly after she retired as director of the Beaufort County Department of Social Services. At that time, she was invited to participate in the Senior Leadership Initiative at Duke University, a group formed to look at issues affecting older adults in recognition of the growing number of that population in North Carolina.

“That’s what got me started. That’s where my energies have gone. Once you’re in it you get kind of passionate about the whole area of aging services,” she said.

It is the “graying of North Carolina” that gives Brown the greatest concern. The eastern region of the state already has more residents age 60 and above than it does those age birth to 17. By 2015, all but about 10 counties in the state will have this same ratio, Brown said.

Beaufort County is no exception. In 2010, the county had a ratio of 54 percent older to 46 percent younger. By 2015, that ratio is expected to increase to about 75 percent older and 25 percent younger.

“Our local officials and planners all need to be aware of this shift. We are trying to raise awareness. How are we going to help ourselves with that? One is to increase our volunteers. We older adults can be part of the solution and not just part of the problem,” Brown said.

“Resources are limited so we have to be smarter with what we do have. With older adults being one of our resources, we’ve got to encourage the younger (retirees). A lot want to get involved but don’t know how,” she said.

Brown advocates for a local volunteer coordinator — a one-stop place where volunteers and community needs may be matched up — but doesn’t see that happening anytime soon.

Brown said she is able to maintain her busy schedule by taking time out to swim.

“I’ve been swimming for 10 years. I have to do it to keep up,” she said.

She swims weekly at the Hildred T. Moore Aquatics Center pool and in the Pamlico River when the weather allows. She also competes in the Senior Games every year and is an advocate for the benefits of physical fitness for the aging.

“The Senior Games help older adults to stay active. It’s about fun, fitness, family and prevention,” she said.

The only competitor in her age category on the local level, Brown is the winner of dozens of gold medals.